Hundreds practice volcano safety in DR Congo

GOMA, DR CONGO (AFP) - More than a thousand people took part Monday (July 3) in an evacuation exercise triggered by a simulated volcanic eruption endangering Goma, a major city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

At 7:30 am (1:30pm Singapore time), sirens wailed in four northern parts of the city, which lies on the Rwanda border in the path of lava flow from the Nyirangongo Volcano, 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the north.

Previous eruptions have claimed hundreds of lives.

Residents of districts at risk in the capital of North Kivu province were asked to leave their homes and gather three kilometres to the south in the Afia stadium, where white tents were ready for them.

For almost three hours, groups of about 10 to 20 people headed for the stadium in two columns, with possessions ranging from motorbikes to mattresses, kitchenware and prized furniture. They helped children and had domestic animals in tow.

"We're conducting an exercise to simulate a volcanic eruption in order to show the 500 families who live on the potential paths of lava flow how to behave in the event of major volcanic activity," the head of North Kivu's civil protection service, Joseph Makundi, told AFP.

At the end of the exercise, participants would be advised on practical measures such as how to keep order and avoid slowing others down, as well as the most practical items to take on leaving home, Makundi added.

"The population is expected to follow the advice of experts at the OVG (Goma Volcanologic Observatory), because they monitor the daily activity of the volcanos" in the Virunga mountain chain, North Kivu deputy governor Feler Lutaichirwa said.

More than 100 people died in the last eruption of 3,000-metre (10,000-feet) Nyirangongo in 2002. Lava reached Goma in less than an hour and flowed over much of the east of the city, including half of the runway at the airport.

The deadliest recorded eruption was in 1977, when more than 600 people lost their lives.